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Launch vehicles: Europe and the new challenges

This was a major issue at the eighth Conference on EU Space Policy, which has just ended in Brussels and was attended by the president of the Italian Space Agency (ASI), Roberto Battiston

Europe as a global Space player” says the slogan that, for two days, stood out on every panel at the eighth Space Conference in Brussels. This is the European Commission's customary annual event on the subject of 'space policy' (which took place 'Under the high patronage of President Jean-Claude Juncker') and its 'global' agenda focused on more or less all of the 'hot' topics of the moment: from the exploration of Mars and the management of the Earth observation Big Data to the prospects of the telecommunications satellites and those of the brand new, next-generation micro satellites.

But the argument that really dominated the event, in line with the latest Ministerial Conference, was that of launch vehicles. There is some apprehension about what is happening overseas, in terms of progress. For example, the frequently mentioned American Space X and particularly its development programme featuring a 'reusable' launch vehicle: Falcon 9.  


Speaking at the debate, which immediately became very lively, Philippe Brunet - head of the European Commission's DG Growth - repeatedly stressed that the Commission has the right to make its voice heard, having now become the main purchaser of Arianespace (the company that markets European rockets) with dozens of launch-missions to the Copernicus and Galileo constellations. 

“Without the orders that the European Union has put forward, there would be no new launch vehicle” said Brunet, adding “In which other field does the main customer have no say about ongoing projects? Take a good look. You will not find a single one - except for the European field of launch vehicles”.  

Brunet's words were echoed by Franck Proust, French member of the European Parliament and Vice President of the Space and Aviation Parliamentary Commission. He pointed out that, if it is true that the European Market is not big enough to generate a launch rhythm able to develop reusable rocket technologies, should these technologies catch on, the Ariane 6 would be left “in the dust”. 

In his speech, the president of the Italian Space AgencyRoberto Battiston, also warned that Europe cannot sit back and simply watch the new race to space. “At home, on the one hand there are no venture capitals to follow the American model and, on the other, our costs are higher compared to China's, but this is not a good reason to be waiting on the side-lines. Technological cycles - ASI'S president underlined - are increasingly rapid and we need to act.”  

Battiston then spoke about the Big Data: “It is crucial to act quickly and seek new routes in this field too, because without efficient and open management of the Big Data, there will be no new Space Economy.”

The two days ended with speeches by the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, and the Director of DG Growth, Lori Evans, who met the ASI delegation led by Battiston on the side-lines of the convention.